Rhinelander’s Alex Oestreich delivers a pitch during a WIAA Division 2 regional quarterfinal playoff softball game against Ashland at Pioneer Park Thursday, May 16. Oestreich struck out six over five innings as the Hodags advanced with an 8-3 victory over the Oredockers. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Mikayla Evenstad looks to first base after receiving a pitch during a WIAA Division 2 regional quarterfinal playoff softball game against Ashland at Pioneer Park Thursday, May 16. Evenstad hit a go-ahead two-run single for the Hodags in the fourth inning of an 8-3 win.
5/18/2019 7:30:00 AM Survive and advance Hodags rally past Ashland 8-3 in playoff opener, top-ranked Mosinee up next
It has been a long season for the Rhinelander High School softball team, but the Hodags will be able to call themselves something this year that roughly half the teams in the state will not - playoff winners.
Senior Mikayla Evenstad hit a go-ahead two-run single in the fourth and the Hodags held on to defeat Ashland 8-3 in a WIAA Division 2 regional quarterfinal game Thursday at Pioneer Park. It was only the second win of the season for the Hodags, both of which came at home against the Oredockers.
"They were pretty happy. I think they expected to win," coach D.J. DeMeyer said. "They pulled it together and I'm proud of them for that."
It took awhile for Rhinelander to get its timing down against Ashland pitcher Abby Davidson but, once it did, the hits and runs came in bunches. Rhinelander scored all eight of its runs, and collected 10 of its 12 hits, from the third inning on.
"Ashland threw their slow pitcher and we had to make some adjustments," DeMeyer said. "It took an inning or two, but then the girls starting waiting for the ball to travel to the plate so they could hit."
Alex Oestreich pitched five innings to earn the win for the Hodags, and started the rally offensively in the fourth with a leadoff double.
Alexis Engelking moved her to third on a sacrifice and Haylie Stefonek tied the game with an RBI single to left. A Kylie White single and a Hannah Worachek walk loaded the bases for Evenstad with two out, and Rhinelander's lone senior delivered with a two-run single up the middle.
DeMeyer called it poetic justice for Evenstad, who originally wasn't sure if she would be able to play this spring due to a knee injury suffered last fall.
"She's a great kid. She's sacrificed a lot just to come back this season and play," he said. "I'm sure she's playing (at less than 100 percent). I'm sure she's in some pain, but she'll never admit it. She's still at only 65-70 percent but she's giving it her all. It makes me smile inside seeing her out there."
Worachek scored to make it 5-2 after Ashland misfired to second on Evenstad's stolen base attempt. The Hodags scored a couple of insurance runs in a similar manner in the sixth. A Stefonek double and a White singles gave Rhinelander runners at the corners with nobody out. Ashland again misfired as White stole second, allowing both Stefonek and White to score. Sophia McGinnis added an RBI single later in the inning.
Oestreich gave up single runs in the first and fourth for the Hodags. Emily Dickrell got aboard via an error to lead off the game and came around on an RBI grounder by Emma Marshland. Davidson singles and scored off an Allison Kovacht fielder's choice in the top of the fourth to give Ashland a 2-1 lead. Emily Dickrell singled home Kovacht in the sixth.
Oestreich scattered four hits and struck out six over five innings for the Hodags. Brylee Ridderbusch pitched the last two innings to earn the save. DeMeyer said that was the plan all along for his pitchers.
"I told both Alex and Brylee earlier in the game that I planned on rotating them, at least splitting the game, give them a little 1-2 punch and maybe a different style and it seemed to work," he said. "Alex could have probably went a couple more innings. She pitched well enough to pitch the whole game, but I was trying to change it up and keep the batters off balance."
Rhinelander's reward for winning a playoff game, a return trip to Mosinee on Tuesday to face the top-ranked team in the state, and the No. 1 team in the Hodags' regional.
Mosinee swept a conference doubleheader from Rhinelander 12-0 and 11-0 this past Tuesday in Mosinee as pitchers Sydni Gburek and Kyla Osowski tossed a pair of perfect games against the Hodags.
"We know what they've got for pitchers and they've probably got the two best pitchers in the conference," DeMeyer said. "They throw heat. They've got the same pitcher (Gburek) that took them all the way to the finals at state, and we'll probably see her, but we'll work on hitting tomorrow, speed up the pitching machine, try to get them timed up so they get used to it and you never know what you can do."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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